It’s been three years since the last Summer of Sonic, but this year the UK-based Sonic the Hedgehog convention was brought back for “One More Run” thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that reached half the requested amount inside 5 hours, and smashed the intended target by over another 50% on top. Clearly the fan demand was still there 3 years on, and excitement about the show reached fever pitch when it was confirmed shortly after the 25th anniversary party in San Diego that our friends at Sega America had generously supplied some demo pods for Summer of Sonic – attendees would be the first in Europe to play the hotly anticipated Sonic Mania. So, how’d the event go? Let’s find out, shall we?
Edit: 3/23/2016 You can now watch the full panel courtesy of the SEGAbits channel.
The Sonic 25th Anniversary panel at SXSW will begin just a few hours from when this post is published. And thankfully SXSW will be hosting a live stream of the panel, which you can see above. The Sonic section of the stream will start at at 1:30pm PDT / 3:30pm CDT / 4:30pm EDT / 8:30pm GMT / 9:30pm CET.
The panel will feature Aaron Webber, Austin Keys, Mike Pollock, Roger Craig Smith, Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Naka, and will focus on the history of the franchise. The panel’s description also teases that they’ll “look to the future”, though Sega has already clarified that they don’t plan to announce any new games at the panel. Aside from that, Aaron Webber has teased that the meaning of the numbers on the Game Grumps photo from a couple of months ago will be revealed.
Whatever the panel is going to be about, with that selection of guests it’s sure to at least be something worth watching.
Over the past few years the Sonic series has hit a bit of a renaissance, with Colours and Generations achieving relative success critically as well as commercially. Typically, just as this turnaround is achieved, the newest game shows signs of radical change to the 3D Sonic formula that had finally gained acceptance. Sonic Lost World’s new design is the kind of decision that means it’s always interesting to chat to Takashi Iizuka, the man at the top of Sonic Team today and the public face of the team. He’s always cheery and approachable, but you can never quite predict the answers you’ll get from him. We caught him right at the beginning of Summer of Sonic, as the organisers were on stage welcoming attendees!
[Sonic Retro sits down at one end of the large room, with Iizuka and Sega’s interpreter. At the other end, Jun Senoue is faintly strumming away on his guitar, playing the Station Square music. When asked which site we’re from, the reply elicits the customary “Ah, Sonic Retro” from Iizuka.]
Retro: We’re seeing Sonic Lost World at the convention today, and one of the things that is very noticeable is that it goes back to an older, more classic visual feel for the game, with recognisable elements of the original Sonic the Hedgehog design. What motivated you to make this change?
Iizuka: With the previous game (Sonic Generations), it was for the 20th anniversary so we decided to celebrate Sonic’s history. With that one, we tried to compress 20 years of history into one title and aimed for a high quality, HD re-imagining of what Sonic could be. With Sonic Lost World, what we wanted to do was imagine how best Sonic should be going forwards. So we looked back at what we had done before and tried to think about what would the best, playability-wise for Sonic going forwards, and what’s the best look for Sonic.
With Generations, it was HD and really detailed, almost so much that it was hard to see the rings when you were running through the levels. So this time, we stripped everything back and tried to renew Sonic, and we simplified the graphics to match the playability, the style of what Sonic should be.
That time of year is upon us once again – Summer of Sonic, the Sonic the Hedgehog fan convention in the UK, held its 6th show this weekend just gone; back in London again following a brief visit to Brighton last year. This year the event boasted as guests Takashi Iizuka, Jun Senoue, and Kazuyuki Hoshino; with a playable build of the upcoming new title Sonic Lost World available. So let’s dive in, shall we?
In the heart of San Diego as the blood from the San Diego ComicCon pumps through the city, the House of Blues was bumping last night with the ’80s Hair Guitar stylings of Crush 40 belting out fan favourites and all new tracks, and a grand outpouring of love for the spiky Blue Blur from all 800 or so in attendance.
And Sonic Retro was there in force to experience it.
After a little meetup at a nearby Yard House with some of our older members and a few other fans, we made our way to House of Blues to discover that the line was already stretching around three corners of a block with people eager to attend Sega of America’s Second Annual celebration of all things Sonic. And while those of us in line joked about the stranger sides of the fandom, we ran into a familiar face frantically scurrying around the block to make sure the line was moving: Sega of America’s Sonic Generations Brand Manager Aaron “Ruby Eclipse” Webber. After some small talk, we left him on his way to continue making sure the line was moving at a steady pace.
As a little bit of a game after letting him go, a few of us wagered on a social experiment: if the six of us belted out loudly the first four lines of Live and Learn, how many people would join in? The result was far greater than expected and can only be truly enjoyed by the video captured of it. Keep an eye out here as we’ll post it once I’m able to get on an Internet service that can handle video uploading.
With that, we went inside the club.
Whether you’re getting your first Sonic game signed or you’re privileged enough to be playing on stage with Jun Senoue, one of the great things about Summer of Sonic is that it’s a chance for fans to connect with the people making the games we care about. Last year I was one of the lucky ones, as I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka for this very site.
My luck continued this year. While I might have managed to scare the president and CEO of Prope away from the UK for good (though I’ll fervently deny that in court), Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka returned to Summer of Sonic and numbered amongst those who gracefully agreed to face a bout of questions from Sonic Retro. So, on with the show!
Retro: How did you first become involved in the video game industry? Did you work on any games before Sonic 3?
Iizuka: The university I went to was the kind of university where you learned about electronics. Most of the students will have worked with electronics companies like Toshiba and Sony after graduating. The difference was that I wanted to find a fun job, so the only company I went for was Sega! If I didn’t get that, I would have ended up going to a normal electronics company. Sonic 3 was the project that I started in my first year at Sega, but as practice I was involved with Golden Axe 3.
Retro: Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations have received the best reaction of any Sonic games since Sonic Adventure 2, both from critics and fans. What changes do you think explain the positive reactions that have been achieved?
Iizuka: Before Sonic 4 and and Sonic Colours where I was the producer, it seemed that the whole direction wasn’t really in tune. There wasn’t really an idea of how to portray Sonic. When I became producer, I was able to portray Sonic in the way that he really should be portrayed. This may have had an impact on the way the new games have been received.
Sonic’s 20th Anniversary affair is remaining for Sonic Generations and Mario and Sonic 2012, as Sonic 4‘s second episode has been bumped back to 2012, according to Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka in an interview with Eurogamer.
“This year, 2011, is the anniversary, so we’re focusing on the celebration title, but moving forward to 2012, Sonic will still be going, so I’d hope to provide Episode 2 then.”
Given the usual nature of episodic games, where titles are released very quickly in multiple installments, it’s strange that its taken Sonic Team nearly more than a year to churn out the second episode. Iizuka reassured that things are going according to plan.
“It was always the plan,” said Iizuka. “We knew about the anniversary year, and Generations was planned way in advance. It was always our plan to release Episode 2 after Generations.”
However, when it came time to determine if Sonic 4 would stretch on toward a third episode, that same sense of confidence faded away, leaving the fate of the installment uncertain.
“We can’t say if there’s going to be Episode 3 or not,” Iizuka said.
No other details about Episode 2 were revealed, so keep your torches and pitchforks down. For now, Sega is letting Sonic Generations keep the dance floor all to herself.
Of course we didn’t forget about Gamescom currently going on in Germany, sporting new demos for all three versions of Sonic Generations as well as a new demo for Mario and Sonic’s latest (friendly) battle to the death.
Courtesy of forum member TimmiT, we have a few more details about changes in the games along with extra gameplay videos including a full run of Modern Sonic’s City Escape. With all the tasty morsels of media beginning to spill, we advise not watching the videos if you want to keep the gameplay unspoiled.
It’s been slow, so why not.
Takashi Iizuka, the long time target for everything older fans perceive wrong with the series, sat down for an interview with Official Nintendo Magazine to talk up the 3DS version of Sonic Generations. He dropped that the fans of the old Mega Drive games are very much hard to please. He hopes that Sonic Generations will fix that.
“Our team are always trying to present new gameplay innovations so it’s hard to please fans who like the gameplay from the older games,” said Iizuka.
“However, we have included the older gameplay as part of Sonic’s 20th Anniversary, so we think the fans of the older games will enjoy it [Generations] as well. We are also looking into continuing the Sonic 4 series which was released on WiiWare, and we’ll keep developing titles so more fans will enjoy the games.”
Easy on the Sonic 4: Episode 2 comments. Lord knows the fire wave it will bring with it will be enough further down the road.
It may not be necessary to keep trying to please the older fan base by trying to recreate a 1:1 variant of the Mega Drive games in a 2.5D environment, as some of the demands (and believe us when we say we are certainly no strangers to seeing some of these on this very site) border the point of just rom-hacking Sonic 1 or 2 and releasing games in that manner.
At the same time, trying to shoe horn in mechanics such as the Werehog, swords, angsty characters with guns, or even shoddily implemented team-based game play isn’t necessarily the way to go. When thinking of “gameplay innovations”, as they call it, the best strategy is to see what can work with the base gameplay instead of throwing darts at post-it notes on the wall and going with it. Knuckles taking the Werehog’s place while keeping similar play style and calling it Sonic and Knuckles 2? Bank.
If Sonic Colors was anything to go by, just release a game that’s charming and genuinely fun to play and everyone will be happy. You could even argue that the formula was within reach as early as 2002.
[Image Credit: Cyrus Parker]
Saturday, June 25th. A thousand-strong horde of Sonic fans descends upon the Camden Centre in London, to celebrate a video gaming icon with music, games, laughs and chilli dogs. So far, so Summer of Sonic, but this was the 20th anniversary show so there had to be something just a bit special going on, and blimey did they ever deliver on that. How? By getting Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka to drop by London to enjoy the festivities, do some signings and some Q&A sessions. That is pretty hard to top, ladies and gents, especially when fans were able to quiz the pair on Madonna, the joint American/Japanese development of Sonic 2, and dat barrel. However, Sonic Retro was also able to get a little more into the bargain and snag an interview slot with Naka and Iizuka. Exciting? I thought so.
Now if you will, allow me to set the scene. Things are behind schedule and everyone is hot and totally knackered, a fact that fellow attendees will attest to. We’re now down to the last interview slot of the day, and another site needs to cram into the session too. We finally get to head in as Jun Senoue takes to the stage to wow everyone downstairs. Still, I know things are going to be at least a little bit good when we’re asked what sites we came from – the mention of our site causes an “Ah, Sonic Retro!” from Iizuka, as he tilts his head back and smiles with a mixture of recognition and amusement. If you were ever in doubt of Retro’s reach, dear reader, that should give you a rough idea of our place in the grand scheme of things.
Then, with little time to spare and more questions than I can possibly ask, we get down to business.
Retro: Naka-san, you joined Sega around the time of its first real console releases, having worked on the SG-1000 and Sega My Card series back in the mid-80s. What was it like to see Sega become a video game publisher that was known all over the world?
Naka: At the beginning, Sega’s real catalyst for success was the arcade, and Sonic pulled it along and really built upon that. Also, the fact that we had hardware and were a first party helped to give us that status in the market, as a global name. So, I feel really happy to be able to be involved, really lucky. It’s really amazing that something created in Haneda, which is not at the centre of Tokyo, sold worldwide.
Hit the post break for the rest of the interview!